The strike at Film and Television Institute of India, Pune has entered third week.
The students are still determined committed and charged. There is no sign of fatigue in the students. The anxiety and anger in them still weighs heavy and so does their will, their energy. The drums continue to be beaten, slogans continue to be uttered, walls continue to be painted with graffiti, meetings continue to happen, alumni continues to pour in, words of solidarity continues to come in from all corners of the country and songs continue to be sung.
The strike began as a mark of protest against I&B Ministry appointing Mr. Gajendra Chauhan as the Chairman of the Institute. Mr. Chauhan best known for his role of Yudhishtir in the B.R.Chopra mega serial Mahabharat aired in Doordarshan in early 90s. But in no time few other names in the Governing Council also caught the attention of the students, names that of Anagha Gaisas, Shailesh Gupta. This gave a sense of the larger scheme of things to the students making them to oppose the appointments with more strength and energy.
As a mark of protest filmmakers and alumni of FTII, Jahnu Barua and Santosh Sivan have resigned from the Governing Council after being nominated.
The protest has caught the attention of the nation and filmmakers, cultural activists, artists, writers, scholars and film enthusiasts from across the nation are expressing their solidarity with the protest. Articles are being written, editorial are being published, support-meetings/ protests are being held, panel discussions are being held. The matter is being discussed and discussed because it is a matter of concern and the students are not ready to take it bending down.
Why is it a matter of concern?
FTII, established in 1960, in its existence of over five decades now has not remained to be just an Institute but has emerged as a cultural space which has had and continues to have a great influence on the world of cinema in India and the cultural sphere of the nation.
Over the years the institute has shaped filmmakers like Adoor Gopalakrshinan, Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahni, John Abraham, Girish Kasaravalli, Kamal Swaroop, Anup Singh, Amit Dutta, Fareeda Mehta, Gurvinder Singh, Umesh Kulkarni etc who broadly fall into one style/ approach of filmmaking and also has shaped filmmakers like Kundan Shah, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Subhash Ghai etc who broadly fall into a different kind of filmmaking and also filmmakers like RV Ramani, Surabhi Sharma, Jabeen Merchant, Nishitha Jain etc who are into a different genre of filmmaking.
These names, which excludes technicians- editors, cinematographers, sound designers- and skilled artists- screenwriters, art directors, actors- who have been shaped at the FTII, reflect not just the variety of students and approach to cinema but also reflects the vastness of the FTII spirit, culture, vision and philosophy which attracts, encourages and nourishes such varied tastes, approaches and ‘swabhaava’s.
At the same time a good number of people have went on to become some of the finest cine-philosophers, cine-scholars and cine-academicians like RVRamani, Fareeda Mehta, K. Hariharan, Ashwini Malik, Vinay Shukla, Mani Kaul, Arun Khopkar, Kamal Swaroop, Sameera Jain.
The space of FTII has enable nurturing shaping and mentoring of not just world class filmmakers but also film academicians and thus has contributed to not just filmmaking but to the larger cinema culture itself.
This spirit, culture, vision and philosophy of FTII has been shaped by years of serious engagement with art of cinema in specific and culture and society in general and life at large. Years of debate, discussion and dialogue on campus monitored/ mentored by great teachers of the likes of Ritwik Ghatak, Marie Seton, Satish Bahaddur and also guided by the vision of eminent leaders (Chairmans) of the Institute such as Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, U.R. Ananthamurthy and Saeed Mirza.
Appointing in Mr. Chuhan as the Chairman now of FTII is being condemned because the body of work that Mr. Chauhan has to his record is neither in tune with the larger spirit and vision of FTII, forget being respectable artistically, nor does it represent any knowledge or vision which defines the Institute. He doesn’t have in his account any decent experience- creative, artistic, academic or administrative- to justify his appointment and promise good leadership to FTII. So the anxiety of students about the appointment of Mr. Chauhan can be limiting the scope and vision of FTII and also damage its growth.
Mr. Chauhan is now seen on various news channels saying he must not be judged by his past and that critiquing him without seeing him perform is not done. But Mr. Chauhan must understand, and more than him the Ministry must understand, that number of years doesn’t qualify one to be a Chairman of FTII. Ones work must justify their nomination and promise performance.
The inevitable question now is, “If the past is not to be seen then on what grounds the Ministry chose Mr. Chauhan?” Was it purely because of his close association with the Bharateeya Janatha Party spread across two decades now? Probably. It looks like because of the names like Anagha Gaisas and Shailesh Gupta appearing in the list of people forming the Governing Council. Both the names above mentioned have to their credit propaganda films made for the BJP and Prime Minister Modi. The students are justified in believing that these appointment, including that of Mr. Chauhan, is the Government’s attempt to saffronize the education and educational spaces this time with FTII as the target.
This view of the students is being countered by the right wing and also those on the right of the center saying FTII has always been a leftist institution, meaning left ideology has dominated the space of FTII. The fact that Shailesh Gupta is an alumni of FTII should be enough to say that FTII is open to people subscribing to all kind of politics and as an Institute and space doesn’t subscribe to any one particular ideology alone. But being a liberal and progressive space and because cinema deals with life and society the spirit definitely has been what is popularly known as and broadly is “left.” The fact that the students did not oppose Vinod Khanna as the Chairman should also be enough to say that FTII is opposing the current appointment not particularly (and only) because of its “anti-right” stand. This must also say that Mr. Chauhan is wrong in believing that the current protests are “politically motivated.”
In an interview to a TV channel Mr. Chauhan said, “Artists do not protest like this,” and added, “artists are always calm by nature.” These words indicate that his appointment is a great threat to the Institute because there is a code of conduct to artists in his view, there is a disciplinarian approach and there is a monochrome definition of artists. This can be and will certainly be a great threat to the spirit of FTII which has been open to variety, diversity and different sensibilities.
This attitude and approach of Mr. Chauhan is a matter of great concern more than his affiliation to BJP because in the end the real difference, as Orwell wrote in a personal letter to friend, is not between the revolutionaries and conservatives but between the authoritarian and libertarian. FTII has been a liberal space and that is the defining element of the space, apart from its passion for cinema.
There are plenty of problems in FTII, as being pointed by several liberal progressive minds of the nation: Backlogs, attitude, approach, self-indulgence, apolitical nature, cine-puritanism, gender, caste etc. Most of these are issues which are being faced by almost all educational institutes now especially with more number of students born and brought up post-liberalization. There can be no doubt that these are problems and demands immediate attention. That should be one of the reasons why Mr. Chauhan’s appointment must be condemned because his past record and his body of work doesn’t seem sensible and sensitive enough to understand and solve these matters.
Post Script: Adding to the arguments against Mr. Chauhan’s appointment, to lead an institute which trains students in art and humanities one needs a streak of eccentricity (running on the orbit of self-discipline) and imagination. Along with the syllabus and mentoring what makes artists in a space is the eccentricity and imagination, without becoming creatively too undisciplined. Unfortunately Mr.Chauhaan and his body of work lacks both- eccentricity and imagination.
[Base article for the articles published in Friday Review- The Hindu on 19 June 2015 and in Kannada Prabha on 29 June 2015 which were versions of this article.]
Students of the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune (FTII) are going on an indefinite strike starting from 12 June 2015 as a mark of protest against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the new Chairman of the institute.All activities – classes, practicals, shoots – have been stopped till their demand is met. The student council’s immediate demand seeks for a different Chairman, who is qualified and promises – through his/her past records – to do justice to the Institute.
There is also a demand for a new system in place to appoint the Chairman. A system where 51% of the Governing Council will be FTII alumni and the Governing Council electing a Chairman, is being proposed by the students’ council.
FTII earlier has had the likes of Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Girish Karnad, Shyam Benegal, U.R. Ananthamurthy as the Chairman. The list of Chairmen who have served also includes Saeed Akhtar Mirza following the end of whose term in 2014 FTII remained without one.
While names of Jahnu Barua, Santosh Sivan, Rajkumar Hirani were floated as the possible candidates following Saeed Akhtar Mirza by the Information and Broadcast Ministry the final appointment – that of Gajendra Chauhan – came as a shock not just to current students and the alumni, but also the film fraternity across the nation.
The appointment has met with great criticism because of the inadequate experience – both in terms of quality and quantity – of Gajendra Chauhan in the realm of cinema in particular and art in general. Chauhan, whose popularity stands on his role as Yudhishtir in the mega serial Mahabharat aired on Doordarshan during early 90s has no significant contribution/ work to even qualify as a footnote or a passing reference in the history of Indian cinema and television.
Not surprisingly, Chauhan’s appointment is related to his close association with the BJP for over 20 years, he has been an official member of the party since 2004. The appointment of Anagha Ghaisas and Shailesh Gupta into the Governing Council has also shocked the film and the FTII student fraternities, for the two are known for their propagandist films for the Hindu right wing. “This makes the agenda behind these appointments clear i.e. to colour the educational space saffron,” the students are saying.
Jahnu Barua is said to have resigned from the Governing Council and few other FTII alumni whose name appear in the list of the members of Governing Council are also, it is being said, considering resignation and are just waiting for the orders to reach them officially.
FTII is not just an Institute but a space where not just students but a certain kind of culture is nurtured. Those who earlier took the position of the Chairman were not just rooted in the art of cinema and culture but also had a vision. Unfortunately Gajendra Chauhan’s body of work speaks for neither qualification nor any vision which could justify his appointment as the Chairman of FTII. This can become a severe limitation to the space, culture and the very idea of FTII.
The students, and those in solidarity, believe that this appointment “not just undermines the relevance of the post but also sets a wrong precedence for the future.”
[Originally written for Youth Ki Aawaaz published on 12 June 2015]